#117 The Big Heat

Watched: June 24 2017

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby, Jocelyn Brando

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 30min

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Detective Sergeant Dave Bannion (Ford) has it all – a good job, a happy marriage and a lovely young daughter. That is, until officer Tom Duncan commits suicide and Bannion starts to investigate, uncovering layers and layers of corruption and deceit.

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He’s also invited to uncover other kinds of layers, if you catch our drift

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Those who cooperate with Bannion tend to die shortly thereafter, which makes him suspicious that the suicide may not have been as straightforward as initially thought. Even his superiors tell him to back down, which drives his determination to get to the bottom of the circumstances of his colleague’s death, as well as the extent of the mob’s influence on the police force.

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Methods include, but are not limited to, threatening widows. (PS: check out the decorative lamp in the background. Classic!)

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When Bannion’s wife is killed by a bomb intended for him, and his boss suspends him for not complying with orders and accusing him of being on the mob’s payroll, our hero quits his job and goes on a one man mission to bring down the local gangster Lagana (Scourby) and everyone connected to him.

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Cornering people in pubs is a tried and tested investigatory method in many a film. It usually ends in violence.

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One of Laguna’s thugs, Vince Stone (Marvin), has a girl he does not treat right – Debby Marsh (Grahame). After a confrontation between Bannion and Stone in a bar, Marsh, the obligatory scorned female, joins forces with her lover’s enemy.

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She pays the price though, poor girl…

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We absolutely loved this film! Bannion is an early incarnation of the disillusioned-cop-with-nothing-left-to-lose-who-goes-after-the-bad-guys-on-his-own, and he is perfect. We watched it with our parents (family time!) and all four of us were at the edge of our seats for the entirety. It’s thrilling, exciting and intriguing – everything we look for in a Noir.

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There’s also real tragedy and innocent victims

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On top of it all, it is directed by freakin’ Fritz Lang, the man behind two of our favourite entries on the list – M and MetropolisWhat’s not to love?

What we learned: If one side of your face is scarred, you can always go through life backwards. Also, good friends will come through in the end.

Next time: The Naked Spur (1953)

#116 The Band Wagon

Watched: June 25 2017

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 52min

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Washed up musical star Tony Hunter (Astaire) hasn’t made anything in 3 years but seems OK with it. He arrives in New York City, and although the journalists that greet him are actually there for Ava Gardner, his old friends Lily and Lester Marton (Fabray and Levant, respectively) show up to meet him with an idea for a new stage musical.

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The Martons do everything with bells and whistles, including picking up an old friend from the train

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The playwright couple have a plan to get the incredibly pretentious Jeffrey Cordova (Buchanan) to direct their play, and they are also hoping for ballerina Gabrielle Gerard (Charisse) to take on the female lead opposite Tony.

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Naughty, naughty ballerina…

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While the Mortons succeed in getting the people they want, Jeffrey decides to turn their fun musical comedy into a modern retelling of Faust, with himself playing the devil. In addition, the two stars don’t get along, both misinterpreting the other’s reverence for arrogance and acting accordingly.

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Nothing like a shared smoke to fix a strained relationship

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We’re suckers for good musicals and The Band Wagon delivers. Fred Astaire is impressive even in his fifties (which, for dancers, is like seventies) and the humour is on point. We loved Jeffrey’s version of Oedipus Rex, everything to do with Lily and Les, the gradual changes in the show, the murderous triplets and especially Dem Bones Café and the Noir in dance.

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It’s hard to tell here, but these sweet, innocent darlings are actually plotting parricide

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Funny and great musical numbers, glorious and colourful costumes, and fantastic performers – The Band Wagon is a wonderful musical adventure and we absolutely loved it.

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Our normal Friday night

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What we learned: Electricity is life! Also, don’t let your insecurities get the better of you.

Next time: The Big Heat (1953)

#108 The Prowler

Watched: May 31 2017

Director: Joseph Losey

Starring: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes, John Maxwell, Katherine Warren

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 32min

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After a bath, Susan Gilvray (Keyes) sees someone leering through her bathroom window and calls the police who basically chalk it up to hysterical women who should know better than to get undressed in their own homes.

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She should know better than to go near windows while her husband is a work

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One of the police officers, Webb Garwood (Heflin) seems to understand perfectly why a peeping Tom would like to spy on Susan, and he swings by at the end of his shift to check up on her. They discover that they are from the same town and start hanging out together when her radio personality husband is at work, which eventually leads to an affair.

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Because, in this world, “no” apparently means “yes”.

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After a while of cheating on her husband (who we get the impression is more than a little bit controlling), Susan loses her nerve and after some back-and-forths the couple split up. However, Webb, who early on stumbled across Susan’s husband’s life insurance papers, hatches a cunning plan.

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Webb, pictured here hatching

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He decides to get rid of the troublesome rival, get the girl and make a profit in the process. It all goes according to plan, but then another little hiccup appears in the shape of an unplanned pregnancy which could expose them both.

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Luckily, this town is coming like a ghost town and provides a good place to hide

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The Prowler wasn’t at all what we expected. We were prepared for a lot more stalker action and less murderous-psychopath-lover action, but we were far from disappointed. Instead of the basically good man corrupted by the femme fatale we often see in Film Noir, this is the story of a basically good girl who is corrupted by a man (Un Homme Fatal..?) and who must suffer the consequences.

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Him taking the position of her stalker probably should have been her first clue…

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Susan’s fatal flaw is probably her terrible taste in men. Between her controlling husband who locks up everything in his house, including his wife, makes her stay up and listen to his late night radio show and signs off with a slightly ominous “I’ll be seeing you, Susan,” and her new beau who’s a murdering psychopath, she never really stood a chance. Add to the mix the fact that Webb is a master manipulator and Susan is incredibly naïve and easily manipulated, and you have a recipe for disaster.

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She should have walked away the minute he sat down in her house as if he owned the place

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Though not what we expected, we loved The Prowler and we don’t regret the fact that we ended up having to purchase a second, Region A Blu-Ray player in order to watch it (that’s what you get for not checking region codes properly when buying stuff online). At least now we’re no longer limited to buying Region B discs. We’ll pretend it was all part of our master plan all along.

What we learned: Don’t marry your dead husband’s killer.

Next time: High Noon (1952)

#107 Strangers on a Train

Watched: May 15 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock, Kasey Rogers

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Pliable Guy Haines (Granger) accidentally meets creepy Bruno Antony (Walker) on a train. The two start speaking – Guy’s first mistake – and the polite Guy does what most people do when they meet crazy people on public transport – he smiles and nods and generally agrees with his fellow passenger.

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Smile and nod, Guy. Smile and nod.

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Bruno is anxious to rid himself of his father, and he knows, through the gossip columns, that Guy has a wife, Miriam (Rogers), who he wants to divorce in order to marry his new girlfriend Anne (Roman). Bruno also has a theory about how to get away with murder – the trick is to murder someone you have no motive to kill. You know, such as when two people who are otherwise unrelated randomly meet on a train and decide to kill each other’s family members…

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A psychopath he may be, but one cannot fault his taste in shoes

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Guy reaches his destination and thinks no more of the insane stranger on the train until his wife refuses to divorce him now that he’s making money. To make matters even more difficult, she is pregnant by another man and Guy finds himself in a murderous mood which he tells his girlfriend.

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You can see why he’d want to divorce her. She is after all wearing glasses! The ultimate sin of women!

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Guy doesn’t need to worry though – Bruno is there to solve his problems. He follows Miriam and her two boyfriends (possibly? We’re not quite sure) to a fun fair and gets her alone in a secluded spot where he strangles her.

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At least he got rid of those pesky and unattractive glasses for her!

 

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While this helps Guy out of one predicament, it get him into another. Bruno now expects the favour returned – for Guy to kill his father. When Guy refuses, Bruno inserts himself into his life and threatens to frame him for Miriam’s murder.

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Meanwhile, to avoid suspicion, Bruno goes around randomly strangling society women

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Strangers on a Train is a classic Noir thriller with a great premise and a very creepy, menacing and completely insane antagonist. The other characters are a bit less interesting, particularly the boring protagonist, although there are some perceptive women, such as Anne’s little sister Barbara (Hitchcock), Anne to a certain degree, and of course the manipulative and morally speculative Miriam. Also, just in case you care, our favourite characters were the little boy on the carousel and the old man crawling under it.

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This guy

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It’s a suspenseful and interesting thriller which every Hitchcock fan should watch, and we loved re-watching it.

What we learned: Never talk to weirdos on public transport. Also, definitely don’t try to placate them by agreeing with everything they say!

Next time: The Prowler (1951)

#105 Ace in the Hole

Watched: May 7 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Richard Benedict

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 51min

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Chuck Tatum (Douglas) is a big city journalist who keeps getting sacked for various offences, such as sleeping with other people’s wives and generally being difficult. With many bridges burned, he gets a job in a small Albuquerque paper where he dreams of getting a big story to facilitate his return to the big city where he feels he belongs.

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Chuck’s not too concerned with the small town newspaper’s motto

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On the way to cover a rattlesnake hunt, Tatum and young photographer Herbie Cook (Arthur) happen across a cave in and a blonde, and Tatum smells a story. He establishes himself as a hero by going into the cave to talk to Leo (Benedict), the man who is trapped there. Tatum decides to milk the story for all it is worth, abandoning the rattlesnake hunt and convincing the sheriff to take his time digging the poor trapped man out.

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After all, being trapped in a cold and musty cave for days on end has never hurt anyone

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The story of Leo trapped in the cave goes viral, 1950s style, and people and reporters come from all over the country to show their support and/or get in on the action. Leo’s disillusioned wife Lorraine (Sterling), the aforementioned blonde, abandons her plan of leaving her trapped husband and instead starts charging admission money for the cliffs, which essentially turn into a (slightly less drugged up) ’50s Woodstock.

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These two are sort of a great match

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This film was fantastic! Tatum is cynical and full of himself, he makes horrible, selfish decisions and he takes no responsibility for his actions. Instead, he tries to take the high ground with Lorraine as his actions have devastating consequences, and he start blaming the spectators and the other reporters for everything that happens. Absolutely zero responsibility taken there.

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“This chin does not make mistakes!”

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Another new favourite of ours, we really recommend Ace in the Hole to anyone who likes a good film. Or a good chin dimple.

What we learned: There are a lot of hard boiled eggs in the world, and Chuck is 20 minutes.

Next time: An American in Paris (1951)

#103 The Asphalt Jungle

Watched: May 06 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Barry Kelley, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe, Marc Lawrence

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 52min

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Dix Handley (Hayden) has three things in life: a gambling problem, a potential girlfriend named Doll (Hagen), and a dream to buy back his family’s old farm. However, he tends to gamble away all his money whenever he has some, so the family farm seems far from his reach, and he’s not necessarily as into Doll as she is into him.

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Doll and Dix. There’s a (possibly disastrous) movie title in there somewhere…

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When Doc Riedenschneider (Jaffe) is released from prison with a plan for a big caper, he goes to see an acquaintance of Dix’s for funding. Dix and Doc (another potential title, by the way) cross paths and Doc is adamant that Dix is the right man to be the muscle in the heist. This job will give him the money for a farm, so Dix agrees and joins Doc’s team along with a safecracker and a getaway driver, as well as financial backers Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern) and Cobby (Lawrence).

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You just know they’re doing criminal stuff when there’s a pack of cigarettes on the bed, a bottle of booze on the table, and two of them have removed their jackets.

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While the robbery itself goes off with only one small hitch, the double crossings start pretty much right away. With the police chasing them and everyone backstabbing each other, who will come out of this alive?

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And who will get to wear the pretty, pretty necklaces?

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A criminal who wants a quiet, peaceful life; a high-stakes heist with a cast of hand picked experts; a doomed romance; a corrupt businessman with a gorgeous blonde mistress; a dirty cop and double crossings galore – this movie has it all. Clichés they may be, but when they’re done this well it doesn’t really matter. Films like this are the reason people keep coming back to the same clichés – sometimes they really work.

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Like blondes. Blondes always work to confuse young investigators. We’re not sure of which gender that’s most condemning…

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What we learned: There’s no honour among thieves. Also, ’50s slang for explosives is “soup”. It’s fun stuff like this which keeps us coming back. (Well, that, and the obligatory dance/music scenes in Film Noir.)

Next time: A Place in the Sun (1951)

#99 In a Lonely Place

Watched: April 24 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Martha Stewart (no, not that one)

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 34min

In a Lovely Place

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Dix Steele (Bogart) is a successful screen writer whose career is in a bit of a slump. He is about to adapt a novel into a screenplay, and as he cannot be bothered reading the source material, he invites the adorable Mildred (Stewart) home to tell him the story. She cancels her date and goes home with him, and at the end of the night he gives her money for a taxi and sends her on her way.

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Dix is too busy creeping on his neighbour to pay attention to the girl in his apartment

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When Mildred turns up dead the next day, Dix becomes the prime suspect; he was the last one to see her alive, he has a violent temper and also a somewhat unsettling fascination with murder. In addition, he doesn’t really seem too bothered by the whole affair, which is always a red flag for law enforcement (we have learned through movies). However, his neighbour Laurel Gray (Grahame) provides an alibi as she witnessed Mildred leaving the writer’s apartment, and the police let him go.

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Seems the whole creeping-on-the-neighbour-thing went both ways

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The two start a relationship (which is kind of a bad idea since she’s basically the only thing standing between him and a lengthy prison sentence) and quickly start spending all of their time together with Laurel working as Dix’s secretary/assistant. While their relationship seems to be mostly good, Laurel is gradually exposed to her boyfriend’s explosive temper and, as in Suspicion, starts doubting his innocence and her own safety.

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Not the face of a happy woman

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We won’t reveal too much of what transpires, but In a Lonely Place is a captivating Noir thriller and we never tire of watching Humphrey Bogart being super cool and somewhat menacing, though here also strangely vulnerable. Gloria Grahame is also excellent and holds her own with her iconic co-star.

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In between the tension and doubt there are also sweet and romantic moments

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It’s an excellent film with a compelling (though ultimately fairly unimportant) murder mystery and a very intriguing relationship. The characters are flawed and deeply human, and while their choices may not always be good, they are understandable.

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They could have been so good together…

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What we learned: First chance we get, we’re legally changing our names to Dix Steele.

Next time: #100! Los Olvidados (1950)

#98 Gun Crazy

Watched: April 21 2017

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Peggy Cummins, John Dall

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 26min

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Barton Tare (Dall) has been obsessed with guns (although incapable of killing anything) ever since childhood, when he was arrested for trying to steal one and sent to reform school. As an adult, shooting is his only real skill, and after seeing the alluring Annie Laurie Starr (Cummings) show off her marksmanship in a travelling circus, he joins them as a sharp shooter and goes on the road.

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We can’t really blame him for going. Anyone capable of pulling off this look is surely worth risking it all for.

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After a short stint with the circus, the two are fired for falling in love while Laurie “belongs to” the circus owner. (Yup, we know…) The lovers go on the road, get married and spend their savings quicker than they probably planned. Laurie has an idea of how they can earn a living and, very much inspired by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, they go on a crime spree, robbing banks, shops and factories.

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Some are more trigger happy than others. See “Deadly is the Female” – original (spoiler) title

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While Bart has a strict no-killing policy, Laurie isn’t as scrupulous. After a factory hold-up gone slightly awry, Bart discovers that Laurie killed two people in the robbery and he is less than pleased.

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“Bitch had it coming though, criticizing my slacks!” – Laurie, probably

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Despite their difference of opinion regarding the value of human life, Bart is unable to leave the woman he loves, and as the FBI gets involved in the manhunt for the robbers-turned-killers, they take increasingly desperate measures to escape the law.

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They even resort to wearing *gasp* GLASSES!

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Gun Crazy was amazing (despite the fact that it pretty much put all the blame for Bonnie and Clyde’s crimes on Bonnie). Laurie may be the Fatalest Femme we’ve encountered so far – not because she is necessarily the most devious one, but because Bart is probably the most “innocent” Noir (anti-)hero in many ways. Sure, he has an unhealthy obsession with guns and firepower, but at the same time he is almost boyishly naïve and truly seems to believe they’ll be able to conduct a series of robberies without hurting anyone. Or he’s just telling himself that, which is the more likely scenario.

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She wears the pants AND drives the car. And he won’t even shoot police officers for her…

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A new favourite for sure, we thoroughly recommend this one, and we’re looking forward to Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

What we learned: Women are soulless creatures who will corrupt good boys. Also, boys who’ve never been exposed to girls are easily corrupted…

Next time: In a Lonely Place (1950)

#97 D.O.A.

Watched: April 17 2017

Director: Rudolph Maté

Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 23min

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Frank Bigelow (O’Brien) has a problem. He has been murdered. However, he is still alive, waiting for the poison in his system to do its job. As any sane man would, he takes it upon himself to investigate his own murder, which leads him into a world of conspiracies, ruthless men and, of course, Dames.

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Dames, shady businessmen and psycho henchmen are a must in Noir films. As are decorative lampshades, as pictured in the background.

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As he starts to uncover the events leading up to the murder, he becomes gradually more desperate as his expiration date is fast approaching. For an accountant he’s a pretty good investigator and he soon starts to find connections between his own untimely death and the apparent suicide of another man.

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As in all great films, sciency looking men with beakers of strange fluid also make an appearance.

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D.O.A. is another suspenseful Noir thriller told in flashbacks, complete with leggy blondes (our hero’s favourites), psychopathic henchmen and shootouts. And a nice girl, Paula (Britton), waiting at home not being told a thing about her boyfriend’s impending doom. Men…

Our favourite scene was a musical one – Bigelow goes to “The Fisherman”, a jive bar with amazing live music and “jive heads” being enlightened by the musical frenzy.

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We too felt the frenzy. Amazing guys!

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It’s interesting to watch a man when he has (almost) nothing left to lose. Bigelow, an accountant in “real life” seems to become more alive in his last 48 hour of life than he has been up until this point, and he also gets his priorities straight regarding his girl.

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No. The other one.

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Very tense, very thrilling, and very atmospheric, D.O.A. is definitely worth the watch. Excellent concept and an abundance of dames only add to the experience, and we recommend it to anyone interested in Film Noir. And/or decorative lampshades.

What we learned: Not everyone has the privilege of reporting or investigating their own murder. Also, ’50s dresses are the best dresses.

Next time: Gun Crazy (1950)

#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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After ten years, and 48 entries, James Cagney is back, and we’re thrilled. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads a gang of hoodlums with the help of his Ma (Wycherly) with whom he has a relationship worthy of a Freudian study. After several deaths during a train robbery perpetrated by him and his gang, Cody decides to take the rap for another, less violent crime committed at the same time to avoid a life and/or death sentence.

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He seems sadder about leaving his Ma for two years than about leaving his hot wife. See “Freud” above.

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Meanwhile, the man in charge of investigating the train robbery decides to put one of his men, Hank (O’Brien), undercover in Cody’s prison cell to get to the bottom of the case since he knows it was Cody’s doing. Hank’s task is to gain Cody’s trust and get a confession. Or, as it turns out, join him in a prison break and become his right hand man after unfortunate events and treacherous gang members throw Cody’s world off balance.

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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White Heat is an action-packed noir-thriller-prison break-heist-crime-gangster-film with all the elements we still see in the genre(s). The Cagney Charisma makes you sort of root for him a bit no matter how amoral and unscrupulous his character may be, although in this case it could be partly because the people with which he surrounds himself are pretty much as bad as he is.

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Examples include, but are not limited to, his beautiful but duplicitous wife Verna (Mayo)

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Cagney’s undeniable charm aside, we found ourselves rooting more and more for Hank as the story progressed, and we were really impressed with the often sophisticated investigative and forensic tools employed by the police in this film – they felt very modern to us. We also kind of loved Ma Jarrett although, like her son, she’s a bit of a manipulative sociopath.

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Cody is deliciously insane though, so Ma may have been a stabilizing influence in his life

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It’s a dramatic film with a dramatic score. The storyline is one which would probably have been stretched into an entire season of a TV show nowadays, so with a run time of under two hours, it never gets dull. Very good indeed, and we loved being back in the company of James Cagney.

What we learned: We might all profit from a closer study of classic literature.

Next time: All About Eve (1950)